Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Executing The Innocent

Carlos deLuna
"No one can ever say again with a straight face that America doesn't execute innocent men. No one."  -- Andrew Rosenthal, The Atlantic
Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 for the 1983 stabbing death of a gas station clerk in Corpus Christi, Texas.  The Columbia University Human Rights Review has just published its Spring 2012 issue devoted entirely to demonstrating that De Luna was innocent and that it was another Carlos - Carlos Hernandez -- who committed the murder.  The book-length article, entitled "Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution," was authored by Columbia law professor James Liebman and his team of students.

Rosenthal's piece in The Atlantic and Michael McLaughlin's at Huffington Post provide excellent summaries of the details of this deeply troubling case.

 McLaughlin cites some of the key findings of the investigation:
  • The eyewitness statements actually conflict with each other. What witnesses said about the appearance and location of the suspect suggest that they were describing more than one person.
  • Photos of a bloody footprint and blood spatter on the walls suggest the killer would have had blood on his shoes and pant legs, yet De Luna's clothes were clean.
  • Prosecutors and police ignored tips unearthed in the case files that Carlos Hernandez, an older friend of De Luna, who had a reputation for wielding a blade, had killed Lopez. The defense failed to track down Hernandez, who bore a striking resemblance to De Luna.
This was a case of "epic malfeasance and misfeasance," Rosenthal writes, in which the police, prosecutor, defense lawyer and judge all contributed.

The execution of an innocent man over two decades ago cannot be dismissed, however, as an isolated case from a time when procedural safeguards were not as rigorous as they are today.  Indeed, Rosenthal cites to several recent capital cases in which there remain serious and substantial questions of innocence.

But this well-investigated, extensively documented report, as Rosenthal writes, "ought to end all reasonable debate in this country about whether an innocent man or woman has yet been executed in America since the modern capital punishment regime was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1976."


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